The longtime belief about the Kansas City metropolitan area is that our good quality of life and diversified businesses create a stable economy with decent paying jobs.
But a report from the Mid-America Regional Council and the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program challenges that mantra with facts that reveal a more sobering reality.
It found that quality of life ranked much lower in importance for many workers than “quality of opportunity.” The report says people want to be able to reach for new challenges in a dynamic economy. Our diversity of companies isn’t a big strength either, largely because of a lack of depth of competitors across various industries. And wage growth here lags many peers.
The overriding message from the recent study: This area is at a crossroads and must challenge itself to move beyond bickering and scatter-shot programs — especially when it comes to economic development — and find a way to work together. We need much more talk about how cooperation can build a thriving metropolitan area and less about competition that divides us into winners and losers.
Organizing around a common agenda would help. That would require a coordinated approach by the business community and local elected officials to focus on building pillars of economic strength.
As it stands now, every city or county promotes itself, often offering incentives to get companies to hop the state line rather than working together to attract new businesses that would bring in more vitality and employees who could live all around the region.
Sprint’s problems have damaged the economy, too. And while it’s encouraging to have a strong number of high-technology start-ups, they need angel investors and money from other sources to grow.
The MARC/Brookings study notes that Kansas City has no shortage of initiatives designed to boost the local economy. They include the Big 5 from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and Johnson County’s scientific research triangle, plus a host of programs backed by large local foundations and cities.
MARC can provide leadership in getting this needed effort off the ground, partly because it has access to instructive data about the local economy. But leaders from various chambers of commerce, big foundations, Johnson County’s booming business community and political offices across the region also must come together. They need to develop specific strategies to attract companies and jobs, while still encouraging the ones we have here.
The alternative is a stagnant region, or worse, a declining one that’s much harder to resuscitate in the future.